tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly WHUT October 29, 2012 7:30am-8:00am EDT
coming up -- deborah potter has the final report in our series on the large and growing number of americans who say they have no religious affiliation. what effect might these unaffiliated have on organized religion? and this breast cancer awareness month, kim lawton talks with evangelical author and speaker joni eareckson tada about her battle with cancer. also, muslim children in virginia learning about the hajj by pretending to make the pilgrimage themselves.
welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. more than 3 million muslims from around the world traveled to mecca this week for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage all able muslims are called upon to perform once in their lifetime. pilgrims take part in a series of rituals that recall events from the lives of abraham and the prophet muhammad.
on friday, muslims began observing the three days of eid-al-adha or the festival of sacrifice. some sacrifice animals such as sheep or cows to recall abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to god. in a major speech on poverty, vice-presidential candidate paul ryan this week praised religious charities, while blasting federal anti-poverty programs, he charged they create what he called a "debilitating culture of dependency." sister simone campbell, leader of the nuns on the bus tour, criticized ryan, a fellow catholic, for wanting to slash federal funding for low-income families. she argued that contradicted church teachings. meanwhile, in an interview with catholic news service, philadelphia archbishop charles chaput said catholics must be loyal to their church not their political party on the issue of abortion. a poll released this week from the public religion research institute found that 60% of catholics think the church should focus more on social justice and the poor even if that means focusing less on issues like abortion. we conclude today our
three-part series on the fast-growing number of american adults, one in five, who say they have no religious affiliation. we've been calling them the nones, n-o-n-e-s, since they essentially answer "none of the above" when asked about their religion. what effect might this group have on traditional organized religion? deborah potter reports. >> tailbone comes forward. thigh bone back. >> reporter: on a saturday morning at boundless yoga owner and instructor kim weeks is in what she calls her sacred space. >> i feel the universe. i feel energy. i feel mysterious forces working through my body and i see them in other people. >> reporter: weeks is among the 46 million americans that our poll found have no religious affiliation, almost one in five. but they're not entirely secular. about a third describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious."
>> yeah, i think that's a pretty good description. as a matter of fact i think i say that all the time. i'm spiritual, but not religious. >> i definitely don't call myself religious at all so i would think i am spiritual, where i believe we're all connected in some way but i'm not religious in any way. >> reporter: kim weeks has come a long way from the conservative southern methodist church of her childhood and the religious home she grew up in. >> we didn't go so far as do regular bible readings but we weren't that far from it. i mean god was, and jesus, were both present in our daily lives, and a daily discourse. >> reporter: things began to change when she was 12. her parents divorced and she started questioning the church's teachings. >> the flaw in the organized religion that i understand, and that i was raised to believe is that the answers are too quick, they're too easy.
the sort of question marks i have to put over the thesis that there was a virgin birth. i mean just stuff like that, it's difficult for me to accept all those things and believe in something and stay contained inside of that belief based on the frankly veiled threat that i'm going to go to hell if i don't. >> reporter: religion scholar diana butler bass has studied the growth of the spiritual but not religious. in her latest book, subtitled "the end of church," she writes that they share a deep dislike for religious institutions. >> i think that the main, um, problem that people identify with religion is, religious institutions, is hypocrisy, is that they look at these institutions and they see people who are more concerned about politics, more concerned about money, um, more concerned about their own power, um, and that,
that's just not what people expect out of a faith institution. they expect some level of authenticity, especially in the leadership. they would like religious institutions to practice what they preach. >> reporter: butler bass says the sex abuse scandal and cover-up in the roman catholic church and the fight over the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the episcopal church helped accelerate a long, slow decline in religious affiliation. despite that, butler bass sees in america a new spiritual awakening. >> people who are in the unaffiliated categories are engaging in spiritual practices and those run the gamut from pilgrimage to uh, contemplative prayer, to meditation and practices that connect us more fully with god, but they tend to be doing them, uh, sometimes in a congregation of faith, but more often in alternative locations. >> reporter: this meditation group in boston is about as far
from organized religion as you can get. the humanist community at harvard is a home for non-believers, including atheists and agnostics, who do believe you don't need god to be good. >> the more important question to me, though, is not whether you can be good without god but what it means to be good in a world in which we don't have a god to tell us what to do or to help us when we need help. what it means to take care of each other, what it means to be there for one another, what it means to live an ethical life when this is the only life that we have. we're coming up with a new kind of community here to meet what is in a lot of ways a new kind of need. >> reporter: it's a need that's especially evident on campus. younger americans make up the largest group of the unaffiliated. some grew up un-churched. >> religion just wasn't a part of our lives. i was baptized, but it was more just a reason to get the family together and after that, we never really went back. >> reporter: chris stedman found
religion on his own and joined an evangelical church, but soon after, he discovered he was gay and eventually left. >> the grand irony of the situation is that i became an evangelical christian because i was looking for a community, a place to belong and i was looking for a way of making sense of injustice and suffering, of grappling with this idea of suffering. but, the irony of it is that becoming an evangelical christian increased the amount of suffering in my life and, um, and also sort it sort of alienated me from others. >> reporter: now a self-described atheist, stedman discovered he missed the shared values and service opportunities the church provided, something he's found again with the humanists. >> i thought maybe, you know, helping build up non-religious communities would be a way to provide people with opportunities to be civically engaged, to be involved in interfaith dialogue efforts, to do community service, to, um, you know, be move involved in their communities, be more
organized. >> reporter: the vast majority of people who describe their religious affiliation as "nothing in particular" are quite happy that way. 90% say they're not looking for a religion that would be right for them. and for churches, that's a conundrum and a challenge. as the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown, the number of americans who call themselves protestant has declined, for the first time slipping below 50%. at vandalia presbyterian in greensboro, north carolina, pastor mark sandlin is well aware of how much has changed. so he spent his recent three-month sabbatical trying to understand why, by doing something he'd never done before. he quit going to church. >> parts of it i didn't miss. i wish i did. i really didn't. >> reporter: that surprise you? >> it surprised me very, very deeply. i was a happier person, um -- and part of that was getting removed from the dogma, getting
removed from what really is some judgmental-ness that goes on in churches at times. it made a lot of space for my spirituality to grow and some happiness to -- to enter into that space. i think we need to do work on that in churches, um, to create better space and handle relationships in a healthier way. >> we confess that we do wish to love everyone, and we try to love everyone -- >> reporter: many churches recognize their survival is at stake if they can't broaden their appeal. some have changed the way they worship or their service times to fit today's lifestyles, but ultimately, the role of the ordained pastor may need to change, too, from leader to partner. >> a lot of ministers are used to kind of being the, the final word and the one in charge. i think we've got to find new ways of modeling what church looks like and if you look at the biblical text i find a hard time seeing great hierarchies. i see more discipleship of equals going on, and i think
we've got to learn how to do that within our churches. >> reporter: there's no evidence that the unaffiliated tend to make their way back to church as they get older or have families. kim weeks and her husband are bringing up her two children without religion, while teaching them morality. she's willing to let them go to church with their grandmothers, one of whom is a minister, but that's about it. >> i can't imagine a scenario in which we would go back to church on a regular basis. i don't feel, and i check in on this a lot, any sense of longing over not being in a church or the church. i just don't miss it because for a variety of reasons it feels constricting. >> i'm genuinely worried that the existing church won't have much of a future 20, 30 years down the road. but in general i'm not worried. the folks that i'm in conversation with through this who consider themselves spiritual but they're not going to church, um -- why would i
worry? i mean, they're great people, they're, they're in their communities, they're making a difference. i think there really is a space and an opportunity to be doing some ministry together. >> reporter: and why not be optimistic? the unaffiliated may not want to be in church but they're not entirely hostile to religion. in fact, they mostly agree with believers that religious organizations strengthen communities and play an important role in helping the needy -- some common ground, at least, in a changing world. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm deborah potter in greensboro, north carolina. now a special report. two years ago kim lawton profiled author and speaker joni erikson tada, a quadriplegic.
just before the interview she learned she had breast cancer. this breast cancer awareness month she caught up with her about battling the disease and how that affected her faith and her marriage. >> reporter: before cancer, joni eareckson tada lived an extremely busy life. one of the longest surviving quadriplegics on record, she led an international christian ministry for people with disabilities. she was also a popular speaker, bestselling author and acclaimed artist. >> in my situation, being a quadriplegic, i never had time to think about cancer, it always happened to other women. it was not in my wheelhouse. i mean, i had other issues to deal with. >> reporter: those other issues included more than 40 years in a wheelchair. an athletic teenager, tada broke her neck in a diving accident when she was 17.
her spinal cord was severed, and she became paralyzed from the shoulders down. she has limited arm motion, but can't use her hands or her legs. in addition to her quadriplegia, she suffers from chronic pain. it had been nine years since her last mammogram when in 2010, one of the women who helps get tada up in the mornings noticed a mass in her right breast. tada and ken, her husband of 30 years, went to have it checked out and got the devastating dinos -- a malignant tumor. stage three breast cancer. >> any woman who is scratching her heard wondering if she's got enough time to make a mammogram appointment. well, i'll tell her -- do it. >> reporter: i last interviewed tada just after the diagnosis, before she had begun treatment. she spoke of the uncertainty ahead. >> privately i've wondered, "gee, lord, is this cancer my ticket to heaven? because i sure am tired of sitting in a wheelchair and my body is aching.
and i'm so weary. could this be my ticket to heaven?" >> reporter: two years later, tada says it is her evangelical faith that has given her the strength to fight. >> i decided to not let cancer overwhelm me, i decided to overwhelm cancer with a shoring up of an attitude that would trust god in the midst of this and not doubt him. >> reporter: tada invited television cameras to follow along. first came surgery, a mastectomy. she wondered how she would deal with losing a breast. >> as a spinal cord injured quadriplegic, my body image is already, not the best. but, then to slice off a significant part of my femininity, was just hard to wrap my head around at first.
>> reporter: when the bandages finally came off, she says it wasn't as bad as she had feared. >> that first day when i wheeled into my bathroom to look in the mirror, i kind of was looking down, but not looking at the mirror, and wondering how am i going to handle this? is it gonna overwhelm me? what's it gonna be like, and i look up and "oooh, this isn't too bad." i can handle this, i can do this. >> reporter: more daunting was chemotherapy. the doctors were especially concerned about the possible impact because of tada's quadriplegia. she already has brittle bones and diminished lung capacity. losing her hair turned out to be one of the easier side effects. >> i would wake up at night with hair in my mouth. there'd be hair on my pillow, and i said that's it, this is all coming off. and so, my girlfriend took her shaver, and there i was, bald as a bat. we made light of it.
we tried to find the humor in it. besides i knew it would grow back. so, it was a minimal loss, it was a loss that i could absorb. >> reporter: but the chemo took a severe toll on her body. she says it was in those dark moments that she saw the power of her faith. >> i remember one time my husband was driving me home from chemotherapy and i was particularly nauseous, and we started talking about how our sufferings, this cancer, is like a little splash-over of hell, that kind of like wakes you up out of your spiritual slumber like whoa. and so, then we started thinking, well than what are splash-overs of heaven? are they those days when everything is easy and breezy and bright, and there are no problems? he looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, "you know, i think splash-overs of heaven are finding god, or finding jesus in your splash-over of hell." >> reporter: tada says she
doesn't waste time asking questions like why cancer had to happen of top of everything else that she deals with. >> as i have learned to do over four and half decades in this wheelchair, put it behind you. it's in the past. start where you are. this is the new base line, and get on with living. >> reporter: she says prayers, scriptures and songs help her to do that. during chemo, one song was particularly meaningful. >> it was a cd by amy grant. "somewhere down the road they'll be answers to our questions. somewhere down the road, you will find mighty arms reaching for you and they will hold the answers at the end of the road." and that became an anthem for me. somewhere down the road this is all going to make sense. right now, i feel sick, i feel ugly, i feel tired, weak and weary, but somewhere down the road, the answers are gonna come.
>> reporter: two years down the road, tada says she is feeling a strength and stamina that has surprised her doctors. her ministry now includes raising awareness about breast cancer, and supporting women who are fighting it. she has started to resume some of her previous schedule, including some travel and speaking engagements. >> if people put me on a pedestal, i don't think they're listening to what i'm saying. because i'm just, i'm just one person on the same level playing field, helping other beggars to find the bread of meaning and purpose in their suffering. >> reporter: tada says her relationship with ken is stronger than ever. >> it was his arm of support around me that gave me the courage to step out into that demilitarized zone of nowhere, not knowing what is going to happen and march through the marsh with me.
>> reporter: they made the difficult decision not to follow the chemo with radiation treatments because they feared the physical damage to tada's frail body would be too much. but this heightens the risk that cancer cells are still lingering. the doctors have left the chemo port in her chest just in case. >> it's a constant reminder that i'm not cancer free. i've got a long way to go before i can be declared cancer free. >> reporter: amid the uncertainty, tada says she makes a conscious effort to corral her thoughts so that fear, anger and depression don't take hold. >> i just make my emotions obey me. i'm not going to be led by them, i will not allow them to rule my life. and, i think that is a secret to contentment, and it's a secret to learning how to live in the present and move forward into the future with a good attitude. >> reporter: the tadas are currently working on a book about their life together, including this battle with breast cancer. i'm kim lawton reporting.
on our calendar this week, hindus celebrated dussehra, marking the triumph of good over evil when lord rama defeated ravana, who had abducted his wife. this weekend, protestants observe reformation sunday, recalling the day in 1517 when martin luther nailed his ninety five theses to the church door in wittenberg germany. on november 1st, christians celebrate all saints day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. and, november 2nd is all souls day celebrated by catholics and some protestants. during this time, many latinos also observe what they call the day of the dead, when it's believed the spirits of the departed return to earth.
finally, as we reported, for muslims around the world, the hajj the traditional pilgrimage to mecca began this week. for muslim children at the dar al hijrah islamic center in falls church, virginia, there is a mock hajj where they learn what pilgrims to mecca do by pretending to do the same things at their weekend school. our guide was imam johari abdul-malik. >> the journey to this house once in your lifetime is, in the islamic tradition, a requirement. and so people will leave their familiar and they will come to this house established by abraham. but 6 million people cannot fit inside this house and so people will pray around the house. seven circuits around the ka'ba
is the tradition. and in the corner of the ka'ba, there is the black stone, which, it is believed by muslims, to have fallen from heaven. when hagar was left in mecca, by abraham, with her baby, she was looking for water. and the tradition says that where she had placed her child, ishmael, the angel came and at his feet sprung a well which is called, from hagar's words, zamzam. and it is a kind of holy water. then they will run between the hills of safa and marwah in the way that hagar did. mina is a tent city.
and they will live in this tent and perform five daily prayers. the prophet mohammed, when he made his pilgrimage, he came to the top of this hill. he gave his final sermon. it is the belief that after one completes this day on arafah, that all of your sins are forgiven. the prophet instructed his companions to collect some pebbles. and the next morning, after arafah, come and throw, symbolically, their pebble, like abraham threw at the devil when he was tempted. while we are in mina, throwing our stones, people in mecca are celebrating eid. it's like thanksgiving on steroids.
we sacrifice a sheep, and we give that food to the needy around our planet. my hajj is not valid unless i make the sacrifice. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's always much more on our web site as well, including more of our interviews with diana butler bass and joni eareckson tada. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am